Lessons From Indie Adventuring

Listen to them, professionals!

A while back I was ranting about how the indie developers creating AGS adventure games have a great deal to teach those currently making the games professionally. If you look in other areas of development this truth is beginning to emerge – major development studios are taking notice of indie teams, mimicking them, or even hiring them to creating games of a similar vibe (Dragon Age: Journeys being the most recent example of this). But adventure development still seems to be sticking to its non-indie guns. Which makes a couple of articles on A Hardy Developer’s Journal well worth reading for anyone making the genre professionally.

Ben Chandler (Annie Android, Shifter’s Box) and Joshua Nuernberger (La Croix Pan, Chatroom) have written articles for the site going into specific details of adventure game design, which make for essential reading.

Chandler writes about Planning The Journey, and packs it with smart thoughts on getting a game started, finding focus, and best of all, how listening to others is the way to understand how dialogue should work. It’s the first chapter in an on-going guide.

Nuernberger discusses the much more specific topic of Visually Directing The Player, a subject all games across all genres could do well to pay attention to. It’s the same advice Valve has been shrieking at anyone who’ll listen – that games can and should direct players without vocally telling them where to go, using lighting, design, and so on. Well worth a read.

Cheers to Igor for bringing this to our attention.


  1. Fede says:

    What happened to this article? It seems it’s not on the homepage, but the RSS feed lists it.
    Edit: ok, now it’s on the homepage :)

    • John Walker says:

      I managed to create a new error in WP I’ve never seen before. That’s me – finding new ways to break RPS every day.

  2. ChaosSmurf says:

    Shifter’s Box is amazing btw. Play it.

  3. oisomeguy says:

    Igor, I love you.

    • Igor Hardy says:

      Thanks, oisomeguy. Of course it’s Ben and Josh that deserve all the kudos for agreeing to share their game design experiences. I hope they won’t mind doing it again sometime (luckily, Ben has signed a contract for a 4 episode article series).

      In the future I plan to organize more of these kind of articles – focusing on different topics and written by different designers – so stay tuned.

  4. Ben Chandler says:

    ChaosSmurf, I love you.

    Thanks for the mention, John :)

  5. LewieP says:

    Agreed, I really enjoyed it too.

  6. bill says:

    I played through all three of Ben Chandler’s games in one week after reading about them here.
    It was interesting the changes and development as they progressed.

    I’m not really an adventure gamer, and I loved Shifter’s Box much more than Annie Android.

    AA showed me all that i hated about Adventure games.. the story was fun, and i wanted to find out more, but there were too many pixel hunts, too many verbs/actions and buttons, too much backtracking, so i kept getting stuck… but not on things i found legitimate to get stuck on.

    Shifter’s box was much more fun for me. Most of the puzzles were self-contained on one screen. There were a lot less buttons and it was more about working out the logical solution with the tools you had. It reminded me of samorost

    Heed was even more simplified, and more about the story and atmosphere than the puzzles. You could almost say it was too easy… but i don’t think that’s true.

    I enjoyed shifter’s box the most, but i think that’s more because the setting/characters were more interesting to me than the ones in Heed. But the progression in design was definitely towards my kind of game.

    • Ben Chandler says:

      Interesting to read your comments, Bill! I always love to hear what people think about my games :)

      Following Heed I created a super short, super simplified adventure game called Awakener that makes Heed look difficult and complex in comparison – most people said “Ok, you’ve gone too far, start making some proper puzzles again”.

      Just recently (as in, last weekend) I released another short game called Featherweight in which I tried to combine a whole bunch of things I’ve learnt along the way and made it more puzzle heavy. It’s a more complex interface design wise than Shifter’s Box, but less imposing and I think just as intuitive.

      Sadly, there seems to be some major division about the puzzles – some have told me that they’re too easy, some say they’re too convoluted, and others just find them annoying. It seems like I hit the sweet spot in Shifter’s Box and am destined to spend the rest of my year trying to find that same magic, I guess.

      Still, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I really appreciate hearing players’ opinions!

  7. Brulleks says:

    I really enjoyed Heed when I played it. I would usually prefer my adventure games to have more weighty puzzles, but the way they unravelled suited the story perfectly.

    Have just downloaded Shifter’s Box and Featherweight, so will give them a try over the weekend.

  8. fucrate says:

    It’s appropriate that Nuernberger’s article is on Visually Directing the Player, and not Chandler’s as I just finished Featherweight (which was great), but I had to look at a guide a couple times as the contrast between background and some of the clickable elements was so poor that I had no idea there was an item present until I read about it.

    Still a really great setting and a fun adventure, and the puzzle difficulty was just right for me.